COURTESY CAPT. KYLE YONEMURA
Iraqi children flash their shakas with Sgt. Wilgene Lieto of Company E, 100/442nd Infantry of the Hawaii Army National Guard in the village of Albu Hishma.
Island troops shake the shaka with keiki
Iraqi children are in the habit of greeting Hawaii-based troops with the friendly gesture
LSA ANACONDA, IRAQ » The shaka is alive and well in Iraq, thanks to Hawaii-based soldiers from the 227th Combat Engineer Company, the 29th BCT military police platoon and the infantrymen of the 100/442nd Infantry, who have taught the traditional Hawaiian hand gesture to Iraqi children in villages surrounding LSA Anaconda.
While it has been widely reported that the shaka was banned at Camp Victory in Baghdad after it was displayed to the wrong person (urban legend holds that it sparked the ire of a senior officer), the shaka is being wiggled on little hands in all of the villages that are patrolled by soldiers from Hawaii. Upon arrival at LSA Anaconda in February of this year, the soldiers set about sharing some of their island culture with the children who reside in surrounding villages.
COURTESY CAPT. KYLE YONEMURA
Children in the village of Albu Hishma, Iraq, flash the shaka sign when Hawaii-based troops pass through.
The Hawaii-based soldiers regularly hand out candy and toys while on patrols, and during these interactions they've taught the children how to flash the cultural salute.
"It was cute watching some of the kids trying to force their hands into the shape of a shaka," said Sgt. Lionel Lumauag, a squad leader with the 29th BCT MP Platoon. "Now, most of them are good at it," he added.
"As soon as they recognize our patch, all the children start showing us the shaka," said Sgt. 1st Class Don Bongo of the 227th Combat Engineer Company. "We share our extra food and water with the Iraqis that live in the area as part of the aloha spirit and now the Iraqis get really happy when they see the shoulder patches of the soldiers from Hawaii."
The Iraqi children now automatically flash the shaka at the soldiers who wear the 29th BCT or 100/442nd Infantry patch that patrol through their villages, including at the Cavalry Troop from Oregon that acts as the 29th BCT quick reaction force.
"I didn't know what the shaka was when I first got here, but I've seen all of the kids waving it around for months now," said Sgt. Jason Davis. Davis, a student from Portland, Ore., is a member of the F-82nd Cavalry Troop, "Now I know it means 'hang loose,' 'we're friends.'"
"Hopefully while we've been here we've taught the children that the shaka is a more than just a hand sign," said Spc. Sung Yi of the Military Police Platoon. In civilian life, Yi is a police officer with the Honolulu Police Department who works in Waikiki. "I want them to understand that it's also a gesture that means we like each other and that everything's cool between us."
Kyle Yonemura is a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard, assigned to HHC, 29th Brigade Combat Team at Logistical Support Area Anaconda, near Balad, Iraq. He writes occasionally for the Star-Bulletin. In civilian life, Yonemura is a Honolulu Police Department sergeant.